I have a confession to make. I am addicted to Catfish. No, this isn’t some wonder cancer cure. It’s a programme on MTV. MTV has gone through a weird change of late. It used to stand for Music Television and play music videos. I remember great excitement when my friend, Fran, thanks to a cricket mad dad, acquired Sky TV. This meant she had access to MTV. I used to cycle over to her house most weekends. We became a female version of Beavis and Butthead, slagging off the videos they showed. We secretly hoped the next video wouldn’t be as awful as the one we were currently watching. But it usually was.
Now the last thing that MTV shows is music. They may feature a quick thirty seconds of something, but that’s your lot. What MTV does show is back to back reality TV shows. Most of these shows seem to involve various people getting extremely drunk and doing stupid things. These programmes have the extremely annoying habit of showing someone doing something stupid. Then a Vox pop with the person who did the stupid thing, describing what they did. This irritating bit of editing is used in most American reality TV. It goes something like this. A man trips over. Next shot is the same man saying as if he’s being interviewed:
“Oh, my God! I tripped over! “
Yes, mate. We know you did. Now get over it and shut up!
There is one show that doesn’t fall into this category and that’s Catfish. Catfish started life as a film. It was made by a very nice bloke called Nev Schulman. The film follows Nev and an online relationship he is having with a rather glamourous model called Megan. However, there is a problem. Megan is never able to Skype or video chat. She also lives on the other side of the States from Nev. Consequently, months go by and Nev has never met Megan face to face. The film follows Nev as he tries to track down Megan and meet her. He soon finds out that she is not the girl in the picture. In fact, she is a married mum in her fifties with two severely disabled children. Megan was created by her as a bit of an escape from the realities of her world. Incredibly Nev reacts to this news quite calmly. He is now friends with the real Megan and is in contact with her.
That’s Nev’s story. Now Nev and his abled assistant Max Joseph see it as their mission to expose other “catfish” by meeting people who have been in long term online relationships, but have never met their partner. They set about investigating who the person is. They set up a meeting between each party and watch the sparks fly. It is never the person they think it is. Sometimes it’s someone from the opposite sex. Sometimes they know the person and they hold a grudge against them. One time it was the wife of a married couple who felt sorry for the person they were Catfishing. She even got her husband in on the act by calling and pretending to be the guy that the wife was pretending to be. Confused? They’ve had everything on Catfish. The course of true love never runs smooth…
What Catfish shows is that everyone needs someone to listen to them. You may secretly know that the person you are communicating with online isn’t who they say they are, but the fact that they seem, genuinely concerned about you, makes you feel special. The act of listening is something that is missing in everyday life. As we are no longer listening to one another in the real world, it’s very easy to slip into the online one where every voice seems to matter.
There is also a danger that if you only listen to the how wonderful you are, your ego gets bigger and bigger and you lose touch with reality. This happened in a classic Catfish episode when this guy was convinced he was in a relationship with Katy Perry. He had an engagement ring made and was ready to pop the question. In the real world, he was communicating with a lonely Canadian teenager who had recently moved to England and was struggling to make friends. Even when he met his Catfish and she explained why she did it, he still refused to believe it. In his mind, it was Katy’s way of covering up her true feelings for him by getting a stooge to pretend to be her.
It’s easy to live in a fantasy world and to believe our own hype. The current President of the United States is a shining example of this. Yet it’s through listening to others that we can see life from a different perspective. Now, everything is in black or white. You are with us or against us. You have this treatment or none at all. There needs to be more active listening, especially in institutions like the NHS. I hate it when I go to an appointment and the consultant or registrar has already decided what they are going to say before they have met me. How do they know where I’m at without asking me first? It’s this lack of meaningful conversation that draws people online. This could be quite dangerous from a cancer point of view. Is it really a definite cure or just a huge Catfish that you are dealing with?